In this telling, she is cut open by oyster knife to bring me earth side. The blade spills sideways across her tender belly like sunrise, splitting layer by layer of fertile space, steady hands cradling me, a seedling of a thing, up from inside her body. I can’t live there anymore. Maybe this is the story of every pearl.
My doctor is a black woman, decorated, recommended, chosen with purpose. I need a reflection of me adorned in expertise and a white coat. I am naked, covered and exposed in a bleached clean hospital gown, warming her cold, perfectly manicured hands with my bare skin. She gently presses four fingers into my gut, pokes and prods for a few seconds, maybe hours, then lifts her gaze to meet my eyes.
Do you have fibroids?
Do you... have fibroids?
I stare down my chest, quickly lose focus, and manage to spit out and stumble over the wrong answer.
No, but I had fibrous tissue in my left breast examined at Planned Parenthood a couple of...
She graciously stops me mid-sentence.
I’m pretty sure you have a big one, right here. May I?
She gestures toward my hand, I put mine in hers, and she guides me to the same spot just below my navel.
I come from my mother, a matrilineal line with fibroids medically concerning enough for removal. Fibroids begin as clusters of muscular tissue feeding on surrounding blood vessels for no other reason than to grow themselves. Benign implies harmless. A non- or pre-cancerous parasite is nothing but.
Two invasive ultrasounds deep, I learn the fibroid I carry is effectively the size of a 24-week fetus. I am six months pregnant with a mass folding my uterus into a disappearing act so elusive the tech’s sonic wand struggles to find the organ at all.
The fertility specialist pushes her beaded, cherry red bifocals up the bridge of her nose and squints closer at the screen.
A little to the left... and doooown just a smidge... There it is!
For a black woman partway between year 30 and 31, I am a relatively healthy millennial. My medical chart is an uneventful read with little punctuation. I visit an operating room twice in my lifetime, the first when I am born, and the second, when I undergo a birth of my own.
The story goes something like this:
A parasite infiltrates an oyster. To prevent further potential harm, the oyster releases several layers of a protectant fluid to coat the parasite over and over again. This process can unfold over six months to four years. The end result is a pearl.
My doctor lists my choices with an air of pragmatism I am left spinning. I can leave my expanding fibroid inside my body and commit to monitoring its size and further obstruction of my reproductive organs until it has to be removed maybe months or years later. I can remove the fibroid immediately. I can cry silent tears as she speaks. I choose the latter options.
What are the risks?
The fibroid may be growing into my malleable uterus. There is no way for my team of doctors to know for certain because my uterus is origami. Removal can cause damage to the blood vessels and muscular tissue so severe a hysterectomy is medically necessary.
The National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports black women are more likely to develop larger fibroids at an earlier age, undergo surgery to remove fibroids or hysterectomy due to uterine damage from fibroids.
My anxiety reads this federally funded study as pre-surgery therapy. Before 2011, little research exists to better understand fibroids, let alone the disproportional impact on black people with a uterus. Like pearls, there are layers here.
Several rooms and zigzagging hallways from me sit my family in a kind of waiting the chairs are not made for. I lay alone behind a curtain, hospital socks three sizes too big anchoring my ashy ankles to the stretcher. Lotion is a surgical hazard.
The staff is Hoosier hospitable. They enter and exit the veil, introduce themselves, tell me where their hands will be in the operating room, ask if I understand and consent to the risks, these risks, and those risks. I promptly forget everyone’s names. They say no less than ten times the operating room is running about an hour behind schedule.
We’re so sorry! It won’t be long!
I have dark skin and tiny veins, neither of which bode well for white medical professionals armed with diversity training and a sociology class in undergrad. Blood draws and IV installation require three sweating and profusely apologetic nurses smacking my arms to no avail. My hands, instead, serve as sacrifice.
My hands, a gift from my mother and her mother and probably her mother, shake with fight and hold one another to keep still.
Maybe this fibroid is a gift, too.
A nurse wheels me to the OR, thankfully sparing me small talk. We press through two sets of locked doorways into cold, sterile air. Smashing Pumpkins is waxing alt-poetic through speakers I can’t see.
I am strapped to the table, limb by limb, wash in white light. I am giving over all the trust I have to every person whose names I can’t remember, to my doctor, to the prayers of my family, and whoever is on the receiving end of those calls. I know already I will be different when I come to. I hope I come to, with a little less and a little more inside me.
Zora Neale Hurston imparts in her self-telling, No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
I am full of fibroid and fear and fury. I come from black women carrying generations of struggle in our bodies, and sharp fucking knives, too.
In her book The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult Alice Walker writes, I think mothers and daughters are meant to give birth to each other, over and over.
In this telling, I am cut open by oyster knife. I am my mother and black women before and beside and beyond me. I am on the other side of a parasite, a pearl, depending on perspective, it cannot live inside me anymore. I bear a smile of a scar carved into my pelvic line as proof.